The New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians were supposed to play Game 2 of their American League Division Series matchup on Thursday night. Instead, rain pushed the game to Friday and, combined with an already unusual postseason schedule, created a two-day break between Games 1 and 2. The upshot is a series that could require four games in four days if it goes the full five games.
In a playoff series, where managers are used to leveraging off days to get the most out of their best pitchers, that can have serious implications. It could even tilt the balance of power in the series. Now, Cleveland was already in a hole, both in the win column — the Yankees are up 1-0 — and the future outlook. But the prospect of four games in four days may play into the hands of Terry Francona and company by accentuating the one notable advantage they have on the Bronx Bombers.
Let’s think through the ripple effects the crunch creates.
Game 2 starters Shane Bieber, Nestor Cortes Jr. limited later
Because the Guardians had to get through the wild-card series first, Cleveland ace Bieber couldn’t start Game 1 opposite Gerrit Cole. He’ll go in Game 2 against Cortes, the breakout Yankees lefty who actually had the best ERA on the team this season. The rain day doesn’t really change anything about Game 2, really — both pitchers will be on varying levels of extra rest. What it does do is eliminate any realistic thought of them returning to make traditional starts in Game 5. Three days rest isn’t unheard of. Two days rest means any contributions would be more in the one or two innings vein.
The No. 4 starters just got important
Those swingmen who can pitch in the bullpen or take a start were already going to be important in this postseason. But they could take on bigger roles quicker than expected in this ALDS.
Cleveland’s No. 4 is 27-year-old righty Aaron Civale, while the Yankees would turn to Jameson Taillon. Neither has pitched yet in this postseason, but Taillon was warming up as a relief option for Aaron Boone during Game 1.
Taillon made 32 starts and gave the Yankees 177 1/3 innings of pretty much spot on average pitching, finishing with a 3.91 ERA. Civale’s 4.92 full season ERA looks worse, but in an injury-marred campaign, he got on track late. From Aug. 10 on, he posted a 3.35 ERA in eight starts.
If they were to match up directly, it’s hard to read too much into it one way or the other. They would also be on short leashes with bullpens read to hop in. And about that …
Guardians boast better bullpen depth
The most significant part of Taillon being drawn into action for a potential start is the effect it could have on the Yankees bullpen. With Scott Effross, Ron Marinaccio and Zack Britton going down late in the season — joining earlier injury casualties Michael King and Chad Green — and Aroldis Chapman left off the team for missing a workout, the Yankees bullpen is running low on trusted arms.
Clay Holmes, Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta are the top four arms in this pen right now. Boone turned to three of them to close out the Game 1 win. With two days off, everyone should be fresh, but Taillon may have been one of the next men up. Now, he’ll have to be handled carefully to preserve his starter status.
Cleveland and Terry Francona have no such worries. The unit that fired a full nine innings of scoreless ball in Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays is one of the league’s deepest bullpens. Their top seven is fully intact and healthy, though they lost Nick Sandlin to injury in the wild-card series. That includes dynamite closer Emmanuel Clase, he of the swerving triple-digit cutter. Francona may have to use him a bit less aggressively with no off days as buffer, but he still looms as a weapon the Yankees can’t match.
Now, no amount of bullpen strength can help the Guardians generate offense — their contact-heavy but punchless approach hasn’t been producing runs thus far in the postseason. And it won’t get easier. Cleveland’s offense has been horrible against lefties — like Cortes — all season. And Cole, who shut them down for 6 1/3 innings in Game 1, is slated to start on regular rest in Game 4. But if they were to squeak out a win or two and push this series into its later stages, master tactician Francona would at least have some interesting options to play with.